question-icon

How to get rid of nail biting habit?

default
Posted on Mon, 28 Jul 2014
Question: Hi Doctor,

My daughter is 8 years old, she has a habit of nail biting,how to get rid of that.
doctor
Answered by Dr. Vinay Bhardwaj (2 hours later)
Brief Answer:
Habitual behavours can be normal or stress related

Detailed Answer:
Hello Raminder, Thanks for coming to HealthCareMagic.

Your child may bite her nails for many reasons – curiosity, boredom, stress relief, habit, or imitation.

Nail biting is a very common nervous habit along with thumb-sucking, nose picking, hair twisting or tugging, and teeth grinding. It's also the one most likely to continue into adulthood.

Growing children can become anxious, and many of these tensions and pressures are invisible to parents. If your child bites moderately (doesn't cause bleeding) and unconsciously (while watching TV, for example), or if she tends to bite in response to specific situations (such as performances or tests), it's just his way of coping with minor stress and you have nothing to worry about.

In all likelihood, your child will eventually stop on her own, but if the nail biting goes on longer than you'd like, or if it's a habit you just can't allow, there are simple ways to help her quit.

1) Address her anxieties: It's essential that you deal with the underlying causes of the behavior and think about whether there's stress in your child's life that you need to address."

If you have an idea about what might be making your child anxious – a recent move, a new school, etc – make a special effort to help her talk about her worries. This is easier said than done for most kids, of course, but suggesting a patently ridiculous reason for the nail biting ("I know! You're trying to sharpen your teeth!") may prompt her to tell you what's really bothering her.

2) Don't nag or punish. Unless your child really wants to stop biting her nails, you probably can't do much about it. Like other nervous habits, nail biting tends to be unconscious. If your child doesn't even know she's doing it, nagging and punishing him are pretty useless strategies. Even adults have a terrible time breaking habits like this.

If the habit really bothers you, set limits. "No nail biting at the dinner table" is as reasonable way to set a rule.

In general, as long as your child's not hurting herself and doesn't seem overly stressed out, your best bet is to keep her fingernails neatly trimmed, remind her to wash her hands often, and try to keep your attention focused elsewhere. If you pressure her to stop, you'll just add to her stress and risk intensifying the behavior.

ALSO, any direct intervention on your part – such as painting nasty-tasting solutions on her fingernails – will feel like a punishment to her, whether you mean it that way or not. The less fuss she associates with the habit, the more likely she is to stop on her own when she's ready, and the more likely she is to feel comfortable asking you for help.

Help her when she wants to stop. If your child's friends are teasing her, she may be ready to stop – and she'll need your help.

She might find it helpful to wear adhesive bandages on her fingertips or paint her nails with a couple of layers of nail polish to make biting more of a challenge.
If SHE HERSELF wants to try painting her nails with a bitter-tasting solution, that's fine, but check the label. Some solutions contain ingredients like cayenne pepper that can sting if a child rubs her eyes. The most important thing is that SHE should agree to the intervention. Otherwise it becomes a punishment to her and she may rebel.

Girls sometimes find that a trip to a salon for a fancy manicure helps them stop biting their nails.

Make sure she has plenty of opportunity to run and play – outside, if possible – to burn off tension and nervous energy. Some kids find arts and crafts projects a good way to keep their hands busy and relax at the same time. For other kids, learning to play a musical instrument can be helpful.

Try – and try again. Explain to your child that different people respond to different techniques, and encourage her to try a variety of solutions if the first one doesn't work. In general, the older she is, the more responsibility she can take in this endeavor.

Finally, remind her – and yourself – that habits are hard to break and that the two of you are on the same side. Take a break if you need to, and make sure your child gets plenty of affection and attention no matter how successful she is in breaking her habit. Eventually your patience and persistence will pay off.

In rare cases, severe nail biting can signal excessive anxiety. Consult your child's pediatrician if nail biting makes his fingertips sore or bloody, if she's also doing other worrisome behaviors (such as picking at her skin or pulling out her eyelashes or hair), or if she's not sleeping well.

Also consult the doctor if your child's nail-biting habit surfaced suddenly and escalated quickly. In either case, professional counseling may be in order.

I hope this helps you understand the problem. If you need to further the discussion, then we can help you find a therapist to discuss this with in person.

Vinay
Above answer was peer-reviewed by : Dr. Chakravarthy Mazumdar
doctor
Answered by
Dr.
Dr. Vinay Bhardwaj

Neurologist, Surgical

Practicing since :2006

Answered : 544 Questions

premium_optimized

The User accepted the expert's answer

Share on
How to get rid of nail biting habit?

Brief Answer: Habitual behavours can be normal or stress related Detailed Answer: Hello Raminder, Thanks for coming to HealthCareMagic. Your child may bite her nails for many reasons – curiosity, boredom, stress relief, habit, or imitation. Nail biting is a very common nervous habit along with thumb-sucking, nose picking, hair twisting or tugging, and teeth grinding. It's also the one most likely to continue into adulthood. Growing children can become anxious, and many of these tensions and pressures are invisible to parents. If your child bites moderately (doesn't cause bleeding) and unconsciously (while watching TV, for example), or if she tends to bite in response to specific situations (such as performances or tests), it's just his way of coping with minor stress and you have nothing to worry about. In all likelihood, your child will eventually stop on her own, but if the nail biting goes on longer than you'd like, or if it's a habit you just can't allow, there are simple ways to help her quit. 1) Address her anxieties: It's essential that you deal with the underlying causes of the behavior and think about whether there's stress in your child's life that you need to address." If you have an idea about what might be making your child anxious – a recent move, a new school, etc – make a special effort to help her talk about her worries. This is easier said than done for most kids, of course, but suggesting a patently ridiculous reason for the nail biting ("I know! You're trying to sharpen your teeth!") may prompt her to tell you what's really bothering her. 2) Don't nag or punish. Unless your child really wants to stop biting her nails, you probably can't do much about it. Like other nervous habits, nail biting tends to be unconscious. If your child doesn't even know she's doing it, nagging and punishing him are pretty useless strategies. Even adults have a terrible time breaking habits like this. If the habit really bothers you, set limits. "No nail biting at the dinner table" is as reasonable way to set a rule. In general, as long as your child's not hurting herself and doesn't seem overly stressed out, your best bet is to keep her fingernails neatly trimmed, remind her to wash her hands often, and try to keep your attention focused elsewhere. If you pressure her to stop, you'll just add to her stress and risk intensifying the behavior. ALSO, any direct intervention on your part – such as painting nasty-tasting solutions on her fingernails – will feel like a punishment to her, whether you mean it that way or not. The less fuss she associates with the habit, the more likely she is to stop on her own when she's ready, and the more likely she is to feel comfortable asking you for help. Help her when she wants to stop. If your child's friends are teasing her, she may be ready to stop – and she'll need your help. She might find it helpful to wear adhesive bandages on her fingertips or paint her nails with a couple of layers of nail polish to make biting more of a challenge. If SHE HERSELF wants to try painting her nails with a bitter-tasting solution, that's fine, but check the label. Some solutions contain ingredients like cayenne pepper that can sting if a child rubs her eyes. The most important thing is that SHE should agree to the intervention. Otherwise it becomes a punishment to her and she may rebel. Girls sometimes find that a trip to a salon for a fancy manicure helps them stop biting their nails. Make sure she has plenty of opportunity to run and play – outside, if possible – to burn off tension and nervous energy. Some kids find arts and crafts projects a good way to keep their hands busy and relax at the same time. For other kids, learning to play a musical instrument can be helpful. Try – and try again. Explain to your child that different people respond to different techniques, and encourage her to try a variety of solutions if the first one doesn't work. In general, the older she is, the more responsibility she can take in this endeavor. Finally, remind her – and yourself – that habits are hard to break and that the two of you are on the same side. Take a break if you need to, and make sure your child gets plenty of affection and attention no matter how successful she is in breaking her habit. Eventually your patience and persistence will pay off. In rare cases, severe nail biting can signal excessive anxiety. Consult your child's pediatrician if nail biting makes his fingertips sore or bloody, if she's also doing other worrisome behaviors (such as picking at her skin or pulling out her eyelashes or hair), or if she's not sleeping well. Also consult the doctor if your child's nail-biting habit surfaced suddenly and escalated quickly. In either case, professional counseling may be in order. I hope this helps you understand the problem. If you need to further the discussion, then we can help you find a therapist to discuss this with in person. Vinay